Title: An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England
Author: Venetia Murray
Fun Fact: In Regency England it was considered a great honor to be invited to watch the fashion icon Beau Brummel get dressed.
Review Summary: The tone is straightforward and factual, but the information included is fascinating and engaging all on its own.
Regency England was a time period that technically lasted from 1811-1820 and which you might recognize as the setting of the genre known as “regency romances”. An Elegant Madness is an impressively thorough discussion of the time period, with chapters on everything from clothes to dinners, to society and scandalous sex lives. Although the author’s tone is fairly scholarly and dry, the topics and first hand accounts make for some fascinating reading.
The author’s research was clearly extensive and I loved all the snippets of letters she shared. I also appreciated the in-text citations, which are always useful for distinguishing fact from speculation. On the other hand, the author’s writing style was somewhat dry and the chapters occasionally felt like a collection of loosely connected anecdotes. The random, untranslated bits of French were also somewhat distracting. Fortunately, one thing saved the book from being too scholarly and hard to follow. Through the anecdotes chosen, the author does an amazing job conveying the feel of the fascinating society that was Regency England.
I would honestly recommend this book to anyone with some interest in history. The time period includes much upheaval and many contradictions, so it contains a variety of aspects that could appeal to many different kinds of readers. There was chivalry and romance, high society and balls and duels. There were crazy sexual escapades and and fabulous feasts and grandiose entertainments. And the author does a great job covering all of these aspects of Regency England with smoothly integrated quotes and superb commentary. I doubt anyone could read this book without at least a momentary desire to experience life as a member of high society in Regency England.